Dancing the Meringue

August 9, 2012

Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, Katie and I have done an awesome job making a new recipe every week. Largely the process by which we’ve done this is to check out a bunch of cook books from the library, copy all the recipes that look yummy, and then try them. If they’re good, we keep them, if they’re not, we give them to our friends.

(I kid, I kid).

Part of Katie’s secret plot is to expose me to some flavors we don’t typically cook with. I’m all for it since Father Burb** did a good job of giving us a huge range of foods as kids. I mean, how many people have had caviar before the age of 12 or have helped butcher their own deer. Seriously. That said, I’m a *little* skittish about certain flavors that I have not really cared for in the past. Most of those fall in to the category of Indian spices and flavors (This means you curry, coconut milk, and ginger!). The conflict comes in where Katie loves them and I hate them, so she checked out a book that had everything to do with using spices to make exciting food. I agreed to be open-minded about it, and we began copying recipes.

All of that is the preface to an only sort of related thought. In flipping through this book, Katie noticed a recipe for nougat. Like, REAL nougat. Not that stuff you find in candy bars, the stuff you find in the Mediterranean. She also recalled that I happen to REALLY REALLY LOVE nougat. Who knew it would be that easy to get me to like eastern flavors. Ha!

Anyhoo, she decided to “make me some” which actually means she started them, then got wrapped up in something else, so *I* made nougat. Still, it doesn’t really matter how it happened, the important thing is that it did.

Nougat, like so many other forms of yumminess, start with a hefty amount of sugar. In this case we are working with a blend of sugar, corn syrup, and honey. Bring this to a boil, stirring/whisking occasionally until it incorporates and begins to boil. Clip in your candy thermometer and brush the sides of the pan down with water. Then let it go.

While the syrup mixture is coming up to temperature, take some room-temperature egg whites and start whipping them in to meringue. Tip: Using room-temperature eggs is awesome because they are so much easier to work with, especially for something like meringue. Because the eggs are warmer, the proteins have an easier time relaxing and stretching out, meaning you can work it harder faster. Whip your egg whites in to softish to lightly stiff peaks. Tip: Save back your egg yolks! We turned right around and used them in a custard because obviously. I guess you could also mix them in to your dog’s dinner to promote a healthy, shiny coat, but  I think everyone will agree that custard is  obviously the better option. Obviously.

Once your eggs are about the right consistency, make sure your syrup reaches a “soft ball” stage. This means that when dropped in to water, the syrup will form a ball shape that is soft and loses its shape when pressed between your fingers. On a candy thermometer this is around 234 F or 224 F for those at altitude. You can see that the syrup is very very lightly starting to take on color. The bubbles will transition from small and fast to larger and slower.

Once you reach the soft ball stage, turn your eggs back on at a slow mix and pour approximately one quarter of your syrup in to the eggs. You want to pour slowly and toward the edge of the bowl so you disrupt the eggs as little as possible. Working too fast can deflate your eggs and ruin the fluffy quality of the meringue. Once you get the syrup in, turn the eggs to medium speed and put the syrup back on the stove.

Bring the remaining syrup up to a “hard crack” at around 300 F/ 290 F at altitude. When this syrup is dropped in to water it forms in to a firm and brittle sugar chunk.

You can see how the syrup has taken on a much deeper color under the bubbles. The bubbles are also bigger and slower, as compared to the bubbles in the soft ball picture. Once you reach this temperature, turn the stove off and again slowly add your syrup in to your eggs, which should be mixing at a slow speed.

Once all the syrup is in, increase the speed and continue to whip the mixture until it is fluffy and glossy.

Once everything is incorporated and smooth, add in a bit of butter and some vanilla. We also chose to add pistachios, which are traditional, although the recipe called for almonds. Another traditional flavor is rose water. Just be careful with the rose water. It’s strong stuff and can make your confection taste like soap.

BE CAREFUL! The sugar is  extremely hot and will make your mixing bowl similarly really hot. Further, working with sugar can be dangerous regarding burns. The natural instinct is to wipe it off if you get sugar on you. DON’T. It will smear and burn more of you. Get it under very cold water as soon as possible to cool the sugar off for safe removal. Also, wear shoes when you work with sugar. Seriously. Dangerous stuff. Also: delicious stuff.

Once your mixture is incorporated, you’ve mixed in your roughly chopped pistachios (or other ingredients), take the nougat at pour it in to a WELL BUTTERED cookie tray. This stuff is super super sticky so if you don’t grease your tray well…have fun getting that out. Pour in enough nougat to comfortably fill the tray, smooth it in to the corners, and refrigerate to chill and set. It’s important to let it chill for at least four hours. Remember how it was super hot? It will stay hot in the middle for quite a while. Plus it will be much easier to cut when it is cold.

Once cool, place a piece of wax paper over the top of the tray and smooth on to the nougat. Then turn your tray over and work the nougat out. I did this over a cutting board so that I could then directly slice it. I also found that it is helpful to loosen as much of it as you can before flipping it – I took my bash and chop and worked it under all the sides so that I had a lot less to detach when upside down and awkward.

You can actually see my bash and chop lines in the middle. While the sides were free, I had to take the BnC and loosen the middle. This is  significantly easier with a buddy.

Once out, place a second piece of wax paper over the top. Then take a well oiled knife and cut the nougat in to smaller pieces. You could go high class and wrap each piece in a piece of wax paper. We took the heathen approach and just stacked them in to a container. The downside is that because our house was a million degrees, they kind of stuck together on the sides. The good news is that you can pretty easily snap them apart when cold. The better news is that it also means that “one piece” might not be the same as one piece 😀

This recipe actually made two trays worth, so we had quite a lot. The nougat is sticky like a taffy (mind your teeth!) and tastes strongly like honey. However, when you get a bite with the pistachio, it is utterly to die for.

**EDIT: Mother Dear Mother was also a HUGE driver of the variety of my diet.

Divinity

June 17, 2011

So I was going to try nougat take two yesterday, but then I decided I was too lazy. Nougat is, as you may have gathered from the previous post, finicky and exacting. So, still wanting to make candy, I decided to try something new, and decided on divinity. Apparently divinity is not a universally known candy (I remember having it as a kid), but it’s basically a cousin to meringues and marshmallows, so I figured it should go over well around here.

The steps for divinity are pretty much the same as a lot of other candy. You need a simple syrup and a meringue. This is actually  the easiest of all of the candies we’ve done, because there really are only those few ingredients and a couple of flavorings.

You beat the meringue to stiff peaks, hopefully at close to the same time you get your syrup to 250 degrees. You then beat the syrup into the meringue, let it go for 5 minutes or so, and add some vanilla for flavor. Then beat it for five more minutes, until it starts to loose it’s shine and dish it out with spoons. If you have more patience or dexterity than I do, you can make them into nice little rounds with a spoon swirl on top. Mine are more free-form, but they still taste good!

They do dry, so the texture is less sticky than something like marshmallow and less sticky than something like meringue. They’re also very sweet, so this is definitely a recipe for those who love sugar. The original recipe I used can be found here.

So anyone who knows the two of us, knows that fluffy, meringue-based candy is apparently the way to our hearts (marshmallows, anyone?). So with that in mind, and two days off in a row, I decided to try to make a homemade version of the Holy Grail of meringue candies-nougat. I started off with this recipe, which is honey-almond flavored.

Nougat starts off a lot like marshmallows, but unlike marshmallow, you don’t use the magic of gelatin to make it set up. Just the magic of egg whites, which, really, are pretty amazing. The big difference in the set up was that I added honey to the sugar and corn syrup in the simple syrup. This gives me the honey part of the flavor, and allowed me to use up an old, sugared, bottle of honey I had lying around. 

That came to a boil just like any other syrup, and at the same time I was beating two egg whites to stiff peaks. The idea is that one’s egg whites reach stiff peaks and one’s syrup reaches 251 degrees (remember 241 for those at Denver altitude) at the same moment. My timing wasn’t great, so I ended up bringing the eggs up a little fast and hard, which may have been one of my issues in the end. Once you get to this magical point, you take a 1/4 cup of hot syrup and slowly add it to your meringue. Now it’s a hot syrup meringue.

At the same time, or if you’re more organized than I was, a little before this, you should toast the nuts you want in your final candy. I went with all almonds because it’s what we had on hand. The original recipe also calls for pistachios and walnuts. The original recipe also wanted whole nuts, but I thought that might be a little unruly, so I did a rough chop on the nuts as well.

The whole time you’re doing all of these other things, your syrup continues to cook until it reaches 315 degrees. This is the beginning of a whole lot of mixing, and the transformation from egg whites and syrup to candy.

As you can see in the picture the syrup is a nice golden brown color  at this point. You want to keep an eye on it so it doesn’t scorch. Once it’s at the appropriate temperature, slow your mixer way down, and drizzle the syrup into the meringue mixture which should be at stiff peaks. The syrup is so hot it will kind of melt your meringue, but turn the mixer back up, and let it run until the candy starts to hold it’s shape again. While that mixture is re-inflating, you can grab the rest of your ingredients.

 

This particular recipe is flavored with vanilla and almond extracts (2 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp almond), a pinch of salt to bring out the flavors, and butter. Once your mixture is re-inflated, stop the mixer and add in your last ingredients. You’ll notice the butter makes the mixture shiny and opaque like taffy. From here you’re going to beat it some more, until you get a ribbon when you lift the beater out of the mixer. This texture, is like taffy, but a little softer. From here, you stir the nuts in by hand, and then spread in a well-oiled baking pan.

As you can see, this is where my experience got a little interesting. Once I had the nuts in there, it started to set up fast, and it was very hard to spread. I didn’t even manage to get it to cover the whole bottom of the pan, and I don’t seem to have the quantity of candy that the recipe suggests that I will. I suspect that my timing was a little off and some of the sections involving mixing could have been done a little more slowly and gradually. However, the taste is good, as I can attest from licking the bowl, so that gives me hope and little more preparation for next time.

 

 

 

So there’s been a recipe going around on the internet that shows how to make your own pop rocks at home. As many of the commenters on the original recipe (found here) have noted this candy doesn’t really pop like actual pop rocks do. However, with that said, it does fizz pleasantly in your mouth (if you like that kind of thing), and we have made this not once, but twice since we first saw this recipe.

This recipe is basically a straight forward sugar-syrup based hard candy, with a few twists to make it fizzy.

To start with you need a few things that are a little out of the ordinary-the most important one being citric acid crystals. We found them at Whole Foods in the bulk spices and powders. You also need some kind of flavoring or extract that you want to make your pop rocks. Vanilla and almond are the ones that most people have laying around, but they aren’t that exciting. We’ve done orange both times, which you can usually find at your local grocery store. Our Kroger-affiliate where we usually shop also had banana, anise, brandy, black walnut, and lemon. If you want more traditional candy flavors (say strawberry), your best bet is probably a kitchen specialty store like Williams Sonoma or Sur la Table.

You also need a few things you probably have in your pantry: sugar, corn syrup, powdered sugar, and baking soda.

To start out you prep your candy landing zone with sprinkling of powdered sugar. You then cover those by sprinkling a liberal handful (~1/8 c) of citric acid crystals on a baking sheet.


Once your pan is ready, you start out by assembling the simple syrup with 2 c sugar and 1/3 c corn syrup. One difference between this syrup and the syrup for something like marshmallows is that this one contains just enough water to wet the sugar and actually make it a syrup. It really doesn’t take much. Also, if you’re a masochist, you can make a simple syrup from just sugar and water. However, adding the corn syrup makes it far less likely that your syrup will seize up into a hard, chunky, unappetizing sugar lump.

If you do seize a simple syrup try not to let it get to you. It’s probably the one problem we’ve had more than any other. Sugar can be touchy, and it naturally likes to form crystals, so when you make simple syrup you’re essentially making something behave against its own inclination. A few tricks to avoid seizing a syrup: 1. use corn syrup, even just a little bit, as its sugars have a different structure that make it much less likely to crystalize. 2. Once everything is dissolved and incorporated, stop stirring. Getting a little piece of sugar that crystalizes on a spoon or a whisk can set off a chain reaction and ruin your whole evening. Instead swirl the whole pot gently to help mix. 3. As your syrup cooks, brush down the sides periodically with a wet pastry brush. This helps stop small crystals from forming on the sides of your pot, and any small amount of water you add to the syrup will cook off.

For this recipe, we’re going to cook our syrup to 305 degrees. If you’re going to make candy, get yourself a reliable candy thermometer, because for some things the difference between great and a total failure is only a few degrees.

We really like the kind in the picture because the metal holder keeps your thermometer from sitting on the bottom of the pot and telling you the temperature of the pot rather than what you’re cooking. The holder also gives the manufacturer a place to print the number in a large font so you’re not squinting at tiny little numbers trying to determine exact temperatures.

Once your syrup is cooked, take it off the heat and let it cool 25 degrees or so. At this point, you’re going to stir in a teaspoon of baking soda, your coloring if you want colored candy, and your flavoring. Make sure everything else is ready to go before this point because everything’s going to move really fast from this point forward.

You will instantly notice that your syrup starts to make a kind of sizzling noise and starts turning opaque (and colored, if you add coloring). Also notice that we are using a disposable instrument here-in this case chopsticks that we got with chinese takeout. It is possible to get hardened sugar off your kitchen utensils, but not a lot of fun. Stir until everything’s fully mixed together, but not set. You have a little time, but not to run errands or get your camera at this point. Then take your mixture and pour it onto your prepped cookie sheet. 

As long as you haven’t stirred too long, you should be able to make a puddle. If your candy is starting to harden, you might get lumps more than the nice puddle seen in the picture, but that shouldn’t effect your final product.  Now take another small handful of citric acid crystals and sprinkle on top of the candy. Just a note-citric acid tastes sour, so show some restraint unless you really like sour things. You want enough citric acid to cause your fizzy reaction, but not so much you’re turning your taste buds inside out.

Once your candy cools and hardens you’re at the fun part: the smashing!

Put your candy into a plastic bag to contain your mess and smash it into bite sized pieces using a blunt object. Don’t go too crazy, it’s nicer to have pieces of candy to eat than just powder.

When you’re done, store your candy in an air-tight container. It doesn’t like moisture, and won’t keep well in very moist environments.

The verdict at our house: yum!